"Imagine I'm a gay man. I come to work every week on a Monday morning and, as is normal, my colleagues say 'how did you spend your weekend?' I say 'I had fun, I was with my friend'... [thus] every Monday for six years, I lie about my identity and lie about being gay," said Shalini Mahtani, founder of Community Business, a Hong Kong-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) .
Mahtani is not a gay man, nor does she lie about her sexual identity on a daily basis, but she is co-author of the organisation's latest report, Creating Inclusive Workplaces for LGBT Employees: A resource guide for employers in Hong Kong, which was released yesterday at an event attended by representatives of numerous companies, including Bank of New York Mellon, Citi, IBM and Wells Fargo Bank. Unfortunately though, her poignant example and the guide shed light on a very real fact -- in every workplace in Hong Kong and around Asia, unbeknown to many of us, there are colleagues who live through this very situation every day.
"Someone who has to conceal their identity on a daily basis, is never going to be as engaged," said Mahtani. "It makes business sense to be inclusive."
Community Business worked with co-sponsors Goldman Sachs and IBM to publish the resource guide. Founded in 2003, the NGO's original focus was corporate social responsibility work but it has focused on diversity in the workplace issues since 2005. It is well known for the Diversity and Inclusion in Asia Network (Dian) and annual reports on women in the workplace.
The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) guide outlines five reasons why businesses in Hong Kong should have accepting work environments: improved productivity and performance; a higher calibre of job applicants; increased employee retention; an improved public image; and a competitive advantage over companies that do not have an openly accepting workplace. Based on these metrics, Mahtani said multinational companies lead the way in Hong Kong. But investment banks really set the example.
"It really started with the investment banks, as well as the top notch IT companies," she said on LGBT inclusive workplaces in Hong Kong and Asia. "It has progressed to the retail banks and food and beverage companies, and is progressing to the suppliers of particularly the banks, including accounting and legal firms."
Goldman Sachs is considered one of the best with regard to LGBT issues in Asia. The institution has a dedicated regional LGBT intranet, sends out a diversity newsletter on a regular basis to its staff and holds numerous forums and events on the subject for employees and senior management throughout the region.
"At Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong and throughout Asia, we have ensured that our policies treat all employees equally and that where possible our benefits apply the same for opposite and same sex partners," said Stephen Golden, head of diversity for the bank in Asia.
Goldman is not alone. Other institutions have or are pursuing their own diversity policies and participate in local groups such as the Hong Kong LGBT interbank group. Interbank members include Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Citi, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman, J.P. Morgan, Nomura, UBS and Wells Fargo. Representatives of the group marched in Hong Kong's second ever gay pride parade last November.
"I'm challenging our employees to come up with a diversity policy that fits them," said Christopher Sturdy, Asia-Pacific chairman of BNY Mellon. "As a foreigner, I'm wary of saying what I think we need." He added that as a company, BNY Mellon is "explicitly diverse".
Sturdy's challenge to bring the institution's LGBT inclusive policies to Asia is not solely out of goodwill, he is also one of the few openly gay bank executives in the region. As such, he has a unique ability to drive workplace acceptance in Hong Kong and throughout the bank's Asia-Pacific operations.
"We have a number of formative diversity groups for Asia-Pacific," he said. "We are testing the waters with these groups and, for example, are promoting the upcoming screening of the film Prayers for Bobby among our employees in Hong Kong."
Asked about his experience as an openly gay senior executive in Asia, Sturdy said: "It has been a positive experience. Our employees are still in the process of figuring out how to deal with it, but it has never been an issue and BNY Mellon is extremely supportive."
Yulee Teng, diversity liaison for Asia-Pacific at Citi, said that while the bank does not have an LGBT network in Hong Kong, she plans to use the Community Business resource guide to start one. She said that she will use the Hong Kong diversity committee as a springboard for this and hopes to organise an event for the entire bank with a speaker who can discuss LGBT-related topics. She added that Citi was committed to providing employees with an inclusive working environment.
"With around 50,000 employees in Asia-Pacific, our diversity is something we are very proud of," said Teng. "Today's event underlined our commitment to the LGBT community in Hong Kong."
Inviting a speaker to discuss LGBT issues with a company's entire workforce is just one of 18 recommendations made by Community Business's resource guide to foster more inclusive workplaces. Other suggestions include senior management support, diversity training, anti-discrimination policies and internal activities and groups.
Mahtani said she is hopeful that the guide will encourage Hong Kong's businesses to create more inclusive work environments. She added that it was designed as a resource to provide companies with achievable objectives, local best practices and case studies to help them become more accepting workplaces. At the same time, she acknowledged that up until this point, LGBT issues in the workplace have largely not been addressed in Hong Kong.
"It's legal to be gay in Hong Kong in the crudest sense," said Mahtani, referring to the fact that sodomy was decriminalised in 1991 and the age of consent equalised in 2006. "But it's not at all equal." At least not yet.